August 22

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 22, 1771).

“As low a Price, as … can be purchased for at any Shop in th[i]s Town.”

In the summer of 1771, Richard Jennys sold a “Variety of English, Scotch and India Goods” at his shop across the street from the “Old Brick Meeting-House, in Cornhill” in Boston.  His inventory included “a Parcel of beautiful and newest Fashion Apron Gauzes, Gauze Handkerchiefs and Aprons” as well as “a few Pieces of handsome Lutestring and Mantua Silks.”  Like many purveyors of goods who advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and other colonial newspapers, Jennys made an appeal to price in his effort to incite demand and convince prospective customers to visit his shop.  He described his prices for the lutestring and silk as “very cheap.”

Yet Jennys did more than merely promise low prices.  In a nota bene that concluded his advertisement, he offered a price match guarantee to consumers.  “His Customers,” the shopkeeper declared, “may depend on having any Article at as low a Price, as the same can be purchased for at any Shop in th[i]s Town.”  Jennys certainly had plenty of competitors in Boston, a bustling port and one of the largest cities in the colonies, but that did not prevent him from vowing that he would not be undersold.  In such a crowded marketplace, he attempted to distinguish his shop from the many others that carried similar goods “IMPORTED from LONDON.”  Although he made a point of noting his low prices for certain textiles, his price match guarantee suggested that the bargains did not end there.  Instead, comparison shoppers could get a deal on every single item that Jennys had in stock.  Jennys leveraged every other advertisement that promised “the very lowest Rate” or “a very low Price” by alerting customers that he would offer the same deals.  Some retailers have made this practice a cornerstone of their marketing strategy in the twenty-first century, but they certainly did not invent the price match guarantee.  Entrepreneurs like Jennys deployed it centuries earlier.